The South African E23 BMW 745i was the BMW M7 most didn’t know existed

Shaun · May 17, 2020 03:04 PM

BMW 1M, M1, M2, M3, M4, M5, M6, and M8. See what number is missing there? BMW has made an M model for just about every Series except for one – the 7 Series. BMW said the ‘M’ adds a track element and there may not be a lot of demand for the 7 Series on the track. But there was an M7 back in the 80s, kind of, in South Africa.

ZA spec E23 BMW 745i

It was the first BMW 7 Series that came about in 1977, codenamed E23. The range-topping variant was the 745i which came with the M102 turbocharged 3.2-litre straight-six engine. And yup, the confusing designation already began way back then. BMW’s explanation was that the turbocharged 3.2-litre engine produces a similar output to a 4.5-litre naturally aspirated engine.

M102/M106 turbocharged engine

There was one issue however; because the turbocharger was located in the right side on the engine bay, there was no room to fit both the turbocharger and steering column for a right-hand drive 745i. Due to the lack of available space, it wasn’t possible to mirror the layout.

Here is where the ingenious solution from BMW engineers in Johannesburg came in. They decided to fit the M88/3 3.5-litre straight-six engine, which powered the E28 M5 and E24 M635CSi, into the E23 7 Series. The naturally aspirated M88/3 engine produced 286 PS and 340 Nm of torque. 

M88/3 in the E28 BMW M5

In comparison, the turbocharged 3.2-litre engine made 252 PS and 360 Nm of torque. The M102 was replaced by the M106, with an increased capacity of 3.4-litre and a more modern fuel injection system. Torque was up by 20 Nm to 380 Nm but power remained unchanged. The 3-speed automatic transmission was also replaced by a 4-speed automatic.

The "regular" E23 BMW 745i

The high-revving M88/3 engine was paired to either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual. It does the century sprint in 7.0 seconds and tops out at 236 km/h.

ZA spec E23 BMW 745i

The South African 745i had a slightly wider body which is accompanied by wider wheels as well. It also featured the braking system from the M635CSi. And to top it off, subtle M logos was placed here and there like on the instrument panel.

ZA spec E23 BMW 745i

Only 209 units were produced between 1983 and 1987, making it an incredibly rare and special BMW. While BMW says an M7 is off the table, they sort of made one back then with the South African E23 745i. And if they do go back on their decision and make an M7 in the future, they might refer back to this technicality.